Umar as Caliph

Back Home Up Next

Nomination Of Umar As The Caliph

On the seventh Jamadi-ul Akhir of the 13th A.H. (8th August 633) which was a cold day, Abu Bakr took a  bath and caught a chill. That developed into a high fever. 

Abu Bakr was confined to bed, and he appointed Umar to lead the prayers during the period of his illness  . His illness prolonged, and when his condition worsened, he felt that his end was near. It was suggested  to him that a physician be called. He said "Now all is over." 

Realizing that his end was drawing near, Abu Bakr felt that he should nominate his successor, so that the  issue might not be a cause of dissension among the Muslims after his death. Abu Bakr summoned Abdul  Rahman bin Auf, and asked for his opinion about the nomination of Umar. Some other Companions were  also consulted. 

The general consensus was that Umar was the fittest person to be appointed as the Caliph. It was,  however, felt that Umar had too fiery and tirascible temper, and he might not be able to show moderation  so necessary for the Head of the Community. 

Abu Bakr observed that Umar's display of severity was meant to counteract his ( Abu Bakr's) leniency. Abu  Bakr felt confident that when the full responsibility of government devolved upon Umar he would become  more moderate in his opinions. 

Abu Bakr elaborated. 

"I can say from my personal experience that Umar had always cooled me down whenever I lost my  temper with any one just as whenever he felt me to be too lenient he counseled greater severity. For  this reason I feel certain that with time, Umar will achieve that moderation you desire". 

Taleah objected to the nomination of Umar and said, 

"O successor of the Prophet; You know full well how harsh Umar has been towards us all during your  regime and God only knows how he will deal with us when you are gone. You know that you are leaving  us for ever, and yet you are content to leave us in the hands of a man whose fierce and ungovernable  rages are well known to you. Think O Chief, what answer will you give to your Lord for such a behest." 

At this, Abu Bakr who was lying prostrate in his bed, rose up with considerable effort and said: 

"Have you come to frighten me? I swear that when I meet my Lord, I will gladly tell Him that I appointed  as ruler over his people, the man who was the best of all mankind. " 

Thereupon Ali, who was also present, rose to say that he would acknowledge no other Caliph save Umar.  Abu Bakr was much impressed with the seldessness of Ali for not pressing his own claim, and for putting  the interests of the Muslim community above personal interests. Turning to Ali, Abu Bakr said: 

"You are indeed a prince in the most exalted sense of the term, for others are mere men." 

Then Abu Bakr sent for Umar, and informed him that he had appointed him as his successor. 

Umar said: "But I have no desire for the office." Thereupon, Abu Bakr said: 

"But the office needs you. I have prayed to God to direct me rightly in the choice of my successor, and my  choice is fundamental for the unity and strength of the Muslims." 

Umar acquiesced, and Abu Bakr dictated the testament to Othman appointing Umar as the Caliph in  succession to Abu Bakr. 

The testament having been drawn up, Abu Bakr, supported by his wife Asma walked up to the door, and  addressed the people who had gathered there. He told them that he had appointed Umar as his  successor, and they said "We approve." 

After obtaining the approval of the people in general terms, 

Abu Bakr lay on the bed and prayed to God; 

"O Lord! I have made this testament for the welfare of the community in order to counteract discord  among them. What my intentions are, you know full well. I have spared no pains in making the best  selection. O God, I entrust the Muslims to your care. O Allah keep their ruler on the right path. O God,  make my successor the most pious of rulers and confer peace on the Muslims."

Umar's Inaugural Address

After the assumption of office as the Caliph, Umar addressed the Muslims who had assembled in the  Prophet's mosque. In the course of the address, Umar said: 

"O ye faithful! Abu Bakr is no more amongst us. After having led us for about two years, he has returned  to His Maker. He has the satisfaction that he has successfully piloted the ship of the Muslim state to  safety after negotiating the stormy sea. He successfully waged the apostasy wars, and thanks to him,  Islam is now supreme in Arabia. Islam is now on the move and we are carrying Jihad in the name of Allah  against the mighty empires of Byzantine and Persia. 

After Abu Bakr, the mantle of Khilafat has fallen on my shoulders. I swear it before God that I never  coveted this office. I wished that it would have devolved on some other person more worthy than me. But  now that in national interest, the responsibility for leading the Muslims has come to vest in me, I assure  you that I will not run away from my post, and will make an earnest effort to discharge the onerous duties  of the office to the best of my capacity in accordance with the injunctions of Islam. 

In the performance of my duties, I will seek guidance from the Holy Book, and will follow the examples set  by the Holy Prophet and Abu Bakr. In this task I seek your assistance. If I follow the right path, follow me.  If I deviate from the right path, correct me so that we are not led astray. 

Now brothers I offer a few prayers and you say Amen to them. 

O Allah I am hard, make me soft to promote the Truth, to comply with your injunctions and to aspire to a  better life in the world hereafter. 

O Allah make me hard for the enemies of Islam and for those who create mischief so that their desigus  against Allah come to naught. 

O Allah I am miser; make me generous in the promotion of the good. 

O Allah save me from hypocrisy. Strengthen my resolves so that whatever I do, I do for the sake of  winning Your approbation. 

O Allah soften my heart for the faithful so that I attend to their needs with a sense of dedication. 

O Allah, I am careless, make me responsible enough so that I do not lose sight of You. 

O Allah I am weak in offering my obedience to You; make me active and fortify my faith. 

O Allah bestow on me faith, and the power to do good. 

O Allah give me the power of self-criticism and self assessment. 

O Allah bestow on me the insight into the meaning of the Quran and the strength to act in accordance  with what the Quran says. 

O Allah You are capable of doing anything: bless us with Your favor. Amen."

Umar's Address About His Conduct

After the assumption of office as Caliph, Umar soon realized that he was more feared than loved. Abu  Bakr his predecessor was tender and soft hearted. Whenever he appeared in the streets of Madina, the  children ran to him saying "Father, Father." He caressed and patted them. When Umar became Caliph, the  children would run away at his sight saying "Here comes Umar, let us run away." 

On the occasion of the first Friday prayer after his assumption of office as Caliph, Umar addressed the  faithful assembled in the mosque in the following terms: 

"Brethren, it has come to my notice that the people are afraid of me. They say 'When the Holy Prophet  was alive, Umar was harsh to us. During the caliphate of Abu Bakr, Umar was hard and stern. Now that  he has become the Caliph himself, God knows how hard he will be. Whoever has said this is not wrong in  his assessment. 

The truth of the matter is that I was the slave and servant of the Holy Prophet. The Holy Prophet was  most kind hearted, liberal and generous. In contrast I was hard and harsh so that I was like a naked  sword. It was for the Holy Prophet to use the sword or sheathe it at his option. On occasions he  sheathed the sword, and sometimes he used it. My purpose was to point to the Holy Prophet the other  side of the picture. The decision rested with him. Sometimes he ignored my point of view. There were  occasions when he agreed with me. Till the death of the Holy Prophet that remained the equation  between him and me. Thank God, the Holy Prophet was pleased with me. Though the Holy Prophet  sometimes accepted my advice, and sometimes turned it down, yet he approved of my conduct. 

During the caliphate of Abu Bakr my role remained the same. Abu Bakr was most soft hearted and tender.  It was my business to bring the other side of the picture to his notice. He always took my point of view  into consideration, but the ultimate decision lay with him. Some times he agreed with me, and I acted as  his agent to enforce a decision which appeared to be harsh. Sometimes he did not agree with me, and I  had to remain quiet. I am happy that throughout the period of his office, Abu Bakr approved of my  conduct, and ultimately nominated me as his successor, although I did not covet the office. 

Now that the entire responsibility has come to vest in me, know ye brethren that you will feel a change in  me. I will no longer be hard and stern in all matters. For those who practice tyranny and deprive others of  their rights, I will be harsh and stern, but for those who follow the law, and are devoted to religion, I will  be most soft and tender. I will not tolerate any person make any excess. He who commits any tyranny,  him I will sternly call to book. I will be harsh and stern against the aggressor, but I will be a pillar of  strength for the weak and the meek. They will find in me their best friend. 

Friends you have some rights on me, and I tell you of these rights, so that you may be in a position to call  me to account. These rights are: 

firstly, that I should not exact any tax or other levy from you not authorized by law; 

secondly, that whatever taxes are lawfully realized from you are spent in your best interests: 

thirdly, it is incumbent on me that I should protect the frontiers of your land; 

fourthly, it is my duty to promote your prosperity and look after your interests; and 

fifthly, it is my obligation to do justice. 

O servants of God, continue to fear God. Suppress your selfish motives and work for the solidarity of the  Muslims as a whole. In running the State, you are my partners. Help me with your sound advice. If I follow  the right path laid down by God and His Prophet follow me. If I deviate, correct me. Strengthen me with  your advice and suggestions. Let us pray for the glory of Islam."

Amirul Muminin

When the Holy Prophet died, and Abu Bakr succeeded him he was called "Khalifa tul Rasul", i e. the  representative of the Prophet. 

When Abu Bakr died and Umar succeeded him he called himself 'Khalifa', but the question arose whose  Khalifa or representative he was. It was pointed out that strictly speaking he was not the Khalifa of the  Rasul. He was the Khalifa of the Khalifatul Rasul. Umar felt that this was a cumbersome title, for in that  case, those who followed him would have to be designated by an endless chain of Khalifas. 

Umar accordingly felt that the Head of the Muslim State should be known by a simpler title which should  reflect the Islamic character of the State. Umar asked the people around him to ponder over the matter,  and if they could think of some suitable title they should bring such title to his notice. 

One day Labid bin Rabia and Adi bin Hatim came to Madina from Kufa. They alighted at the Prophet's  mosque and there coming across Amr b. Al As asked him to announce their arrival to the Amir-ul-Muminin. 

Amr b. Al As was struck by the novelty of the term 'Amir-ul-Muminin'. He asked Labid and Adi as to how  they referred to Umar as 'Amir-ul-Muminin'. They said "We all Muslims are Momins and Umar is our  Commander. He is thus Amir-ul-Muminin". 

Amr b. Al As said "Wonderful You have hit upon a beautiful term. God bless You". 

Amr b. Al As hastened to Umar end there said "Amir-ul-Muminin, two persons have come from Kufa, and  they seek permission to see you". 

Umar became curious at being addressed "Amirul-Muminin". He asked Amr b. al Aas as to how he had  coined the term 'Amir-ul-Muminin'. Amr b. al-Acts said that the visitors from Kufa had used that term, and  as he was attracted by the term he had used it. 

Umar said "We were in search of some suitable term to signify the office I hold, and here is a term which  is attractive". He asked Amr b. al Aas as to what he thought of the title. 

Amr b. al Aas said "I am attracted by the term. It is God sent. We all are Muslims and you are our Amir.  The term is very attractive and significant." 

After Umar had seen the visitors from Kufa, he convened a meeting of his consultative assembly, and  there the question was discussed whether he should adopt the title of 'Amir-ul-Muminin' for the office that  he held. The Assembly approved the title. 

Henceforward Umar came to be addressed in his official capacity as Amir-ul-Muminin.

Umar's Allowance

Before becoming the Caliph Umar lived by trade. After assuming the Caliph he could no longer carry on  charge as his business. He accordingly agreed to accept a daily allowance from the Baitul Mal. Different  amounts of daily allowance were suggested by different people. Umar sought the advice of Ali as to the  amount of the allowance he should accept. Ali suggested that he should take as much amount as might  moderately suffice for an average Arab, neither too much, nor too little. Umar accepted this suggestion  and a modest amount of allowance was settled for him. The exact amount of the allowance thus settled  is, however, not reported in any history. 

Later on some companions including Ali, Usman, Zubair, and Talhah thought of increasing the allowance of  Umar as it was not sufficient to meet the minimum requirements of Umar. These companions could not  have the courage to broach this subject to Umar direct. They accordingly approached Hafsa the daughter  of Umar, and asked her to ascertain Umar's reaction to the proposal. 

When Hafsa talked about the matter to Umar, he became angry and wanted to know who were the  persons who had made that suggestion. Hafsa said that before she could tell who were the persons  concerned she wanted his reaction to the proposal. 

Thereupon Umar wanted Hafsa to tell what was the Holy Prophet's best dress in her house. She said that  it was a pair of clothes of red color which the Holy Prophet wore on Fridays or when receiving envoys. 

Umar then asked what was the best of food that the Holy Prophet took. She said that the Holy Prophet's  food was simple barley bread. Umar next asked as to what was the best bedding that the Holy Prophet  ever used. She said that it was a piece of thick cloth. In summer it was spread in four layers and in winter  in two, half he spread underneath, and with the other half he covered himself. 

Thereupon Umar said: 

"Hafsa, go and tell the people who have deputed you that the Holy Prophet has set a standard by his  personal example. I must follow him. My case and that of the Holy Prophet and Abu Bakr is like the case of  three men traveling on the same road. The first man started with a provision and reached the goal. The  second followed the first and joined him. Now the third is on his way. If he follows their way he will also  join them, otherwise he can never reach them." 

When Hafsah told of Umar's reaction to the proposal to the companions who had deputed her they said:  "May God bless Umar. He excels all of us in the matter of virtue."

Expulsion Of Jews And Christians From Arabia

At the time of his death the Holy Prophet had expressed the view that in Arabia there should be only one  religion, namely Islam. During the lifetime of the Holy Prophet, all the tribes in Arabia had accepted Islam.  There were only a few pockets of non-Muslims, the Jews in Khyber, and the Christians in Najran. 

During the caliphate of Abu Bakr, many tribes who had accepted Islam apostatized. As a result of the  apostasy wars, all the apostate tribes were defeated and they once again accepted Islam. During the  brief period of his office, Abu Bakr allowed the status quo to continue with regard to the Jews and the  Christians. 

At the time of the conquest of Khyber, a treaty was executed with the Jews hereunder they were  allowed to cultivate the lands on the payment of one half of the produce to the Muslim state at Madina.  The treaty also provided that the Jews could be turned out of Khyber, whenever the Muslim state deemed  it necessary. 

When Umar became the Caliph he deputed his son Abdullah to Khyber to collect the revenue. As Abdullah  lay sleeping on the roof of a house in Khyber at night, his bed was overturned by the Jews causing him an  injury in the arm. Umar investigated the matter and found that the Jews were bent on mischief. Umar  accordingly passed orders expelling the Jews from Khyber. They migrated to Syria. They were allowed to  carry their movable belongings with them. Their immovable property in Khyber was distributed among the  Muslims. 

The Christians of Najran near Yemen had a pact with the Holy Prophet "hereunder they were allowed to  live in peace unless they indulged in any hostile activities against Islam. It was also stipulated that they  would not indulge in usury. When Umar became the Caliph it was brought to his notice that the Christians  of Najran had violated the peace pact in as much as they were indulging in usury, and were also guilty of  activities hostile to Islam. 

Umar summoned the representatives of the Christians of Najran, and apprised them of the charge of  violating the terms of the treaty. In a vainglorious mood the deputationists said "If that was that, they  might be expelled." Umar accordingly passed orders for their expulsion. Arrangements were made for  their settlement in Iraq. They were allowed to carry their entire movable property with them. Their  immovable property was acquired by the state on payment. 

Umar instructed his officers in Iraq that all possible assistance should be provided for the settlement of  the refugees from Najran in Iraq. The Christians were exempted from the payment of Jizya for the first  two years. 

With the expulsion of the Jews and the Christians from Arabia, the country became an exclusively Muslim  land. Umar has thus the distinction of being the first ruler under whom Arabia became the exclusive  preserve for Islam.

Back Home Up Next